Greens want to form ‘co-operative alliance’ to run Lewes District Council

Zoe Nicholson, Leader of the Green Party Group on Lewes District Council
Zoe Nicholson, Leader of the Green Party Group on Lewes District Council

Lewes District Council’s Green Party group is to call for a co-operative alliance when the authority meets to elect a new leader this evening (Monday, May 20).

In a statement released on Sunday (May 19), Green Party group leader Zoe Nicholson said she would be calling on Liberal Democrat, Labour and Independent councillors to support her bid to become leader of the council.

None of the council’s other political groups have confirmed their support for an alliance however, with Liberal Democrats saying more work would be needed for it to support such a move.

In her statement Cllr Nicholson said: “Over and over again people told me that they are longing for a new way of doing politics, and are inspired by those that work hard for their local communities.

“When the results of the elections rolled in, everyone thought that the Conservatives, with 19 elected seats, would appoint the leader of the council, people would be forgiven for thinking that it was all over. But it isn’t all over”

“I have met and talked with all the leaders of all the opposition groups and independents. I have listened to what matters to them and we have developed a proposed alliance agreement that is fair, balanced and critically where leadership is shared and rotated with us and other parties.

“For the next four years, the Council will be run by the party or parties who win this leadership election.

“It is a single moment in time … that we, local councillors, can show those that voted in the local elections and those that did not that we can overcome our differences and work together.” 

The Liberal Democrat group confirmed it has been involved in discussions with the Green Party about an alliance, but said no agreement had been reached.

However the group says it made a ‘comprehensive offer’ to the Green Party group, which would involve both parties working together in opposition against a Conservative-led council.

Lib Dem group leader James MacCleary said: “The clearest test tonight of the appetite for cross-party working will be the election of the Chair of the Council who has the casting vote, which is likely to be crucial with the margins being so small.

“The only two nominees are the current Liberal Democrat Chair Stephen Gauntlett and a Conservative councillor. We hope that other parties will be able to put the district’s needs before their political priorities and prevent the Conservatives having this all-important position.  

“​Were the Green Party to support our wider joint approach it would allow us jointly to change the way decisions are made by the council, by sharing power between a number of different parties; and to implement key manifesto commitments – such as building truly affordable housing, improving recycling and green spaces and supporting local high streets in order to create a fairer and safer district.

“Liberal Democrat experience of running councils nationally (and previous experience of running the council locally) means that we know the importance of seeking a secure and sustainable working agreement for the people of the district who deserve not to live with chaotic decision making.

“We have been unable to agree common ground and they have, for now, refused our offer.

“But our door remains open to work with them in the future and we look forward to implementing as much our manifesto as possible, working for the good of the people of Lewes District.”

The Labour group has been approached for comment but has not yet responded.

If combined, the three groups would have 20 of the 41 votes cast in the leadership election – one more than the Conservative party’s 19.

The alliance would also require the authority’s independent councillors – Ruth O’Keeffe and Steve Saunders – to either support the alliance or both abstain from voting. 

This evening’s meeting comes after some major changes to the membership of the council and its political makeup following the local elections earlier this month.

Just 14 out of the 41 councillors are returning for a second concurrent term, with many former councillors either standing down or failing to be re-elected earlier this month.

These include former Tory council leader Andy Smith, who lost his East Saltdean and Telscombe Cliffs seat.

The Conservatives remain the largest single party, despite the group’s total number of councillors dropping from 20 to 19 – two seats short of overall control.

The Conservative group is now led by Isabelle Linington, ward councillor for Chailey, Barcombe and Hamsey and the previous council’s cabinet member for environmental impact.

As leader of the largest political group, Cllr Linington had been expected to be elected as the new leader of the council.

With nine seats the Green Party is now the second largest political group on the council, although the Liberal Democrats come a close second with eight members.

Both groups also have newly appointed leaders, with the Green Party led by Cllr Nicholson and the Liberal Democrats led by Cllr MacCleary.

The council now also has three Labour members, with their elections marking the first time the political group has sat on Lewes District Council for more than a decade.

The Labour group is led by Chris Collier, who was elected as member for Peacehaven East.

The council’s remaining two seats belong to the Independent group, which is jointly led by Lewes Priory councillor Ruth O’Keeffe and Newhaven North councillor Steve Saunders.